Inaugurated in 1879 by Sarah Bernhardt, the Salle Garnier of the Opera of Monte-Carlo is an architectural treasure, fully reflecting the lyrical and choreographic history of the 20th century. Today it continues to welcome the greatest names of the opera world, whilst remaining open to original creations and to future talents
A work of art commissioned by the Société des Bains de Mer
After the war of 1870, international high society started to flock back to the Principality of Monaco. The casino and the Hôtel de Paris were again shining over Monte-Carlo. Yet, it still lacked a cultural dimension, whereas in the great European capitals, the opera was an essential highlight of the social calendar. The Société des Bains de Mer therefore commissioned in 1878 the creation of a new concert hall, inside the Casino of Monte-Carlo itself.
François Blanc, the billionaire genius to whom the "SBM" owed its success, granted the French state a loan thanks to which Charles Garnier was able to complete his work on the Parisian opera that now bears his name. At the height of his glory, the grateful architect accepted to take charge of the construction of the Monegasque hall. Eight and a half months were sufficient to give birth to the prestigious Opera of Monte-Carlo! On the 25th of January 1879, Sarah Bernhardt inaugurated it in front of a breathtaking list of personalities. Despite some criticism of the Second Empire style of the decoration, the luxurious design and the perfect acoustics of the hall garnered unanimous praise from the public.
An architectural treasure signed by Charles Garnier
Covered by a copper dome, decorated with sculpted elements adorned with multicoloured mosaics, the facade of the Salle Garnier dominates the sea. Two monumental statues are located on either side of the railing, named La Danse (Dance) and Le Chant (Song), created by Gustave Doré and... Sarah Bernardt.
A perfect square of 20 metres on each side, the hall accommodated at the time 600 seats and a single row of elevated boxes, on each side of the Prince's box. The brown columns and pillars in Aberdeen marble, the red seats and the abundance of gold that covers the stucco elements are all illuminated by a crystal chandelier of 4 metres in diameter hiding no less than five tons of embossed bronze. The walls and the ceiling are covered with rich ornaments: oeil de boeuf, clam-shaped boxes, sculptured masterpieces. On the vault are four panels painted using marouflage: La Musique by Gustave Boulanger, Le Chant by François Feyen-Perrin, La Danse by Georges Clairin and La Comédie by Frédéric Théodore Lix.
Despite being extended with a six metre long foyer, the stage remains small, with a width and depth of twelve metres. But thanks to its warm and intimate baroque atmosphere, the hall gives out a certain charm that is still effective to this day!
The greatest performers for the greatest works
The Opera of Monte-Carlo offered from the start a whole variety of performances mixing music, dance, comedy or comical operas. At the start of the 20th century, under the artistic direction of Raoul Gunsbourg, the Salle Garnier developed its worldwide reputation as a temple for creation.
Numerous major lyrical works were premiered there, such as the Damnation de Faust (1893), L'enfant et les Sortilèges (1925), Don Quichotte (1910) or Déjanire (1911). Berlioz, Ravel, Fauré, Massenet, Saint-Saëns, Rossini, Verdi, Wagner were given a triumphant reception.
The great voices of the lyrical history of the 20th century still resound in the Opera of Monte-Carlo, from Nellie Melba to Enrico Caruso, from Tito Schipa to Georges Thill and more recently Ruggero Raimondi, Plácido Domingo or Luciano Pavarotti. Between 1905 and 1937, the great Chaliapine had one of his greatest moments of glory.
The Ballets of Monte-Carlo
After a series of successes in Paris, the Russian impresario Diaghilev expressed the desire to direct his own ballet company. Monte-Carlo and the Société des Bains de Mer gave him the opportunity to do so in 1911. Diaghilev quickly brought together a troop of twenty-four artists, among whom choreographers and dancers as talented as Fokine, Nijinsky, Lifar or Karsavina. With this team, Diaghilev drastically changed the dance world, making it a complete art with the works of painters, composers and poets. The whole world came to applaud the "Ballets Russes", with posters and decorations signed by Cocteau, Picasso, Matisse, Braque, Dufy or Miró.
Today, under the Presidency of H.R.H. the Princess of Hanover, the Ballets of Monte-Carlo still contribute to the international fame of the Principality of Monaco.
The great renovations of the 21st century
During all of its history, the Salle Garnier underwent several series of renovation work, the main sequence being in 1897. In 2003, 126 years after its creation, a team of experts in art renovation met up "in the footsteps of Garnier" in order to help the hall regain its initial spirit and to provide it with state of the art stage equipment. Structural elements such as the roof, the building and the basements were renovated. The stage was equipped with new motorised and computerised elements. The mosaics on the floor were restored in accordance with the colours originally desired by Charles Garnier. The hall was officially opened on the 19th of November 2005, during the holiday of the Sovereign Prince H.S.H. Albert II.
The Opera today
The Opera of Monte-Carlo has been directed since 2007 by Jean-Louis Grinda, who has perpetuated the great lyrical tradition whilst defending the policies of creation brought about by his predecessor John Mordler. With its vocation as a patron and a spotter of young talents, the Monte-Carlo SBM group also plays an essential role in the management of the hall. Whilst respecting its lyrical vocation, it does not hesitate to make the most of its assets in order to offer the Monegasque public some surprises, such as the Monte-Carlo Jazz festival which, every autumn, enables the Salle Garnier to open itself up to the giants of the jazz world.
For more information: www.opera.mc